Too many Christians experience communion with God as moths behave around lights. The light draws them in, but as they approach, the intense heat repels them. So the moth comes in and out, in a restless cycle of approaching and fleeing, drawing near and pulling away. Christians desire to draw near to God to know him and love him. As we do so, we find that the sight of God’s holiness reveals our sin, imperfections and wrong loves. Guilt and shame follow, and with it, the desire to hide from God (Genesis 3:9). As we break off communion, or refuse to confess our sins, we live in self-imposed leanness of soul, being starved of our soul’s nourishment: God himself. Eventually the spiritual hunger pangs are intense enough for us to return to God, seeking communion. God delights in the return of his wandering children, and restores us, where we can begin beholding him again. Unfortunately, for many, here the cycle begins again.
Our problem is twofold: we make God in our own image, and we are naturally legalists at heart. We imagine God to be as moody and temperamental as we are, and picture God turning from us in disgust, or coldly distancing himself from us. We naively imagine that we need to give God ‘some time’ before we return to him. We also understand our relationship with God as the natural man does. We think of our works as a form of merit, drawing God’s favour, and our sin as a form of demerit, alienating God from us. Certainly, our sin does affect our communion with God, but to view our relationship with God as a kind of balance sheet of debits and credits is to fail to understand the position of the Christian life, and the new natures we have been given.
The life of faith is impossible unless we have faith in the grace of God that changes our natures and establishes our position. Unless we continually trust in this grace in which we stand, unless we continually meditate on the access we have through the finished work of Christ, we will lapse into discouragement, defeat and even despair. Loving God ultimately by knowing him, through living in his presence by faith, can only occur as we trust that by God’s grace, we are in God’s presence. We don’t fall in and out of his presence; we choose to live in faith or unbelief in his provision.
Some of the ancient theologians of the church spoke of perichoresis. This was the term to explain how the three Persons of the Trinity relate to one another. The Father indwells the Son and the Spirit, the Son indwells the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit indwells the Father and the Son. This mutual indwelling is what makes the intimacy, fellowship and love between the three Persons possible.
Gloriously, Christians are brought into a form of this perichoresis. Jesus said that the mutual indwelling of Father and Son was to now extend to himself and believers.
That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: “I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:21-23)
Christ is now in the believer, and the believer is in Christ. The Christian is always in God’s presence for the reason that the relationship is one of mutual indwelling. Between believers and Christ is an organic union that Christ chose to illustrate with vine and branches. Branches are part of the vine, and the life of the vine flows through them.
To be in union with Christ means that God sees us is ‘in Christ’. To use Paul’s words, our lives are ‘hidden’ in Christ (Col 3:3). All that Christ is – Christ’s standing in heaven, Christ’s merits, and Christ’s righteousness – are what now clothe the Christian. Though a Christian can in practice act in a way that is displeasing to God, the Christian is fundamentally clothed with the righteousness and merits of Christ. This means that God’s attitude and actions towards his Son now define his attitude and actions toward us.
The Father hears Him pray, His dear anointed One;
He cannot turn away, the presence of His Son;
His Spirit answers to the blood,
His Spirit answers to the blood,
And tells me I am born of God. – Charles Wesley
Likewise, to be in union with Christ means that his Spirit dwells within us, imparting to us not only a permanent seal of God’s favour, but the possibility of ongoing, internal knowledge of God’s mind.
For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:11-12)
This mutual, permanent position is a very hard concept for many Christians to grasp. Once again, we are legalists by nature. We think that our daily practices establish our position, and determine whether or not we can dwell in God’s presence. God’s gospel of grace reverses this: his grace-given position settles our position and our practices are to flow out of this position.
To understand this, look back to the gospel. When you first come to God for salvation, this is exactly what you are asking God to do: to regard Christ’s position as your position. You, by faith, trust God to regard his Son as your sin-bearer, and regard his righteousness as your own. You do not, in that moment of conversion, become sinless in practice. Rather, your new position begins to change and affect your practice. The same principle of trusting God to regard you in Christ and Christ in you is to continue all through our earthly walk.
As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him. (Colossians 2:6)
This perichoresis goes one step further. Our new natures are a work of the three Persons of the Godhead. In future chapters, we will consider how the work of each Person is crucial to a life of love for God.
The Father’s love for us is our prompting to worship. Knowing that we have been chosen and secured by the Father calls our trembling hearts away from hiding among the trees of the garden, and calls us to communion.
The Son’s merit upon us is our permission to worship. Knowing that we are accepted and completed by Christ’s perfect life and substitutionary death and resurrection arms us with the confidence to come boldly to the throne.
The Spirit’s presence in us is our power to worship. Knowing that the Spirit is working in us, creating and provoking new desires, illuminating the truth to us, convicting us and working on us from within, encourages us to keep working out what he is working within.